Pipeline, Issue #518


I made a big deal not too long ago about not discussing a book's lateness in giving my review to it. While I still believe that it's important to take a comic on its own merits outside of whatever industry hallabaloo surrounds it, I find it impossible this time to judge THE ULTIMATES 2 #13 completely on its own merits. This is a book that relies on its sense of pacing and timing to deliver a grand adventure. Mark Millar's plotting often closely resembles the kind you'd find in a large budget action flic. THE ULTIMATES is the best case of that. But imagine having a ten minute intermission just before the beginning of the third act of the big summer action film. Wouldn't that just kill the pacing and much of the suspense? What if that ten minute intermission lasted several months, to the point where you forgot details of the plot and the characters?

If I were a true "critic-with-a-capital-C," I'd have reread the first twelve issues of this series before reading the 13th. Being a voracious comics collector, though, those issues are scattered somewhere in a sea of long boxes in three different locations. Once I found out that issue #13 was coming, it was too long to track down #1-12.

Hmm, is that another argument in favor of digital distribution? But I digress. . .

Those stutter-steps to the series' conclusion did take some of the wind out of the sails, if I may so boldly mix my metaphors. While I feel that the finale might not have been as impactful as it might have been had I read this in one hardcover book or even on a regular monthly schedule, there's still a lot going for it.

THE ULTIMATES 2 #13 is a spectacular visual feast with dramatic revelations, satisfying conclusions, and a lot of punching. It's a big fun action superhero comic with some quips, some manly dialogue, and a bit of a sappy and sweet retro ending that I really liked. However long it took to put this issue together, it all shows up on the page. Brian Hitch's art is solid through this issue. Millar's script invokes new creatures and characters on a grand scale. Hitch had a lot of design work to do here, and it looks great on the page.

In fact, the gigantic eight-page fold out in the middle of the issue is a show-stopper. Seriously, it stops the story dead in its tracks for the sake of overwhelming the reader with a bombastic display of artistry and a large sense of scale. But this is a superhero comic and I think there's room for that. Being essentially budgetless when it comes to locations and characters, comics should once in a while revel in that. Millar and Hitch do. There's some seriously impressive work in this issue, from large-scale carnage to cinematic camera angles to crowd scenes and architectural perspective work. Hitch has a lot to be proud of in this issue, all of it accomplished without looking like photo tracing. (There's an obvious exception near the end with the NYC skyline, but that's it.)

Millar's script answers the questions, at long last, that the series has been based upon. "Thor's" identity is confirmed -- one way or the other -- in this issue. Hawkeye has a great scene near the end that allows him to tie up a loose end. Tony Stark gets a few pages near the end of the book that make the regular Marvel Universe Stark look like a pansy. Some might quibble that the characterization and, in fact, some of the plot points seem reminiscent of CIVIL WAR, but I think this shows the flip side of that coin more often than not.

From the Big Picture point of view, The Ultimates' reaction to "meddling" in international affairs has a resolution, and it might just be the strongest point of the book. Jeph Loeb is being given the team on a silver platter with a new status quo to play with, and it's one that's very exciting to me. I can't wait to see how they play this one up.

If you waited for the hardcover on this book, you made the right decision. This will be a book best read in that format. For those of us who hung on the monthlies for the occasional dose of visual spectacle and snarky dialogue, it's been a fun but frustrating ride. In the end, though, the creative team delivered on what they promised and created a comic that embraces all the excesses of the genre with a glorious helping of modern cynicism and grittiness.

Most shocking of all, Millar's script didn't include a final panel with someone's big head getting a splash page uttering a one-liner to end it all.

THE ULTIMATES 2 #13 arrives in stores this week with 46 pages for just an extra dollar than usual.


Over in the Marvel Universe, we're getting THE MIGHTY AVENGERS #3 this week. Like it or not, Brian Bendis is the Marvel Universe right now. For a guy who once so famously passed on ULTIMATE X-MEN because he didn't think team books were his thing, he's sure grown into the genre. Heck, THE MIGHTY AVENGERS might just be one of his best Marvel comics to date. Not only does he manage a team of characters very well across the pages, but he also adds character and humor through thought balloons and snappy dialogue. These are his characters for the moment, and Bendis knows them inside and out, not hesitating to crack a joke at the more whimsical nature of the form. (Sentry gets picked on for throwing everyone into the sun, and Ms. Marvel's team leadership on a very bad day come under scrutiny, example.) And this isn't just his usual stylistic decisions at work here. This is a new sound from Bendis' word balloons. It's a joy to pick up every month.

Couple that with Frank Cho, who is just learning how to do superhero adventure comics from the perspective of, at best, an adventure-style comic strip artist. Cho has come into his own with this book. While he still includes some gratuitous moments of T&A in the book, he's getting better each month at putting across the large-scale action bits that superhero comics need. (See previous review.) At times, the work is still a little stiff, the result of a camera that so often stays flat at mid-range, but the storytelling is very strong. He includes a variety of facial expressions that sell the dialogue as its being uttered -- something with is key for a Bendis-scripted title.

In this issue, the team needs to regroup to figure out a way to defeat the new Ultron. Given the strong personalities of the cast members, you can imagine how difficult it is to make any single decision stick. The Wasp and Ms. Marvel do their best to navigate the politics of the situation, but Ares and The Sentry and Black Widow don't exactly make it easy all the time. It's a more powerful team than you might give it credit for at the start, but that doesn't mean they blend together well. That's where all of the entertainment comes.

I'm not going to review the overall plot here because it almost doesn't matter. Nothing jumped out at me for being unbelievable or out of character. I'm reading this book for the characters, much like you might have read Giffen/DeMatteis' JUSTICE LEAGUE series back in the day. For that, I'm enjoying the series.

I'm also enjoying NEW AVENGERS an awful lot right now, too, but I think this one gets the nod as the better of the two books, for both the surprising effectiveness of the thought balloons and the strength of characters from people you might not otherwise care about.


I want to send out my well-wishes and Get Well Soons to Dr. Scott over at Polite Dissent. He's been blogging about medical issues in comic books for some time now. His wife blogged on his behalf this weekend that he had a mild heart attack and is "doing fine now." He is an asset to the comics blogosphere and will be missed during his downtime.

And it just dawns on me now that I don't know his last name and that doesn't bother me. Besides, I like the sound of "Dr. Scott."

Next week: More comics! And maybe more!

My blog, Various and Sundry features a couple of write-ups this week on my wild and woolly experience in buying a new cell phone. It's a crazy mixed-up world out there. Also keep an eye out for this week's DVD releases, more AMERICAN IDOL summaries, and 24 and THE SHIELD chats.

I still have a MySpace page and a ComicSpace page, though I don't hang out much on either of them at the moment. I check my messages at both places, so you won't be ignored.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 700 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

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